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Q & A: What Constitutes Shemot (Part I)


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“The Gemara Sofrim, Chap. 4:1 and the Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana itemize seven names of G-d which must not be erased (or thrown away). The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 14) counts and itemizes 70 names pertaining to G-d which must be treated with respect.

“Our Gaonim and Poskim now go into the various versions of the name of G-d and the Halacha is as follows:

“The Shach in the Yoreh Dayeh 179:11 says: ‘The name of G-d is holy only in Hebrew but in a secular language it is not considered as the true name of G-d, and you are allowed to erase the name if it appears in secular languages such as Polish, Russian, etc.

“ ‘However,’ the Shach continues, ‘I say that in advance (Lachatchila) we should be careful as much as possible, but when it can’t be helped, it can’t be helped.’

“The Beth Yosef (Tur Yoreh Dayeh 276) quotes the Rashbatz that if one wrote the name of G-d without having the intention of holiness, then it isn’t holy and one may erase it.

“The Beth Lechem Yehuda (Yoreh Dayeh 276:10) agrees with this view especially if it’s in a secular language, such as English, but if it’s intended for a holy purpose then we aren’t allowed to erase it (or discard it). But coins which bear the name of G-d are not intended for a holy purpose; therefore we are permitted to discard them.

“The Noda B’Yehuda (Shailos and Tshuvos, Tannina, Yoreh Dayeh 181) was angry at people who inscribed the name of G-d on the holy ark and he said that we should avoid the use of the Holy Name any place.

“The Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Dayeh 276:13) also opposes the custom of engraving the name of G-d on candelabras.

“The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dayeh 276) quotes the Rama and other Poskim who claim that the name of G-d which appears in our Siddurim in the form of two letters ‘Yud’ may be erased if necessary, for the real name is spelled with four letters (Jeho-a).

“He also quotes the Tashbatz that if the name is used in different languages it is not considered the true name of G-d and if necessary they may be erased. ‘However,’ he concludes, ‘even in another language we must be very careful, and warn women and laymen who write out the name of G-d, that though it may not be holy, it is still prohibited. Because if we discard it or throw it into a trash basket, it will put the Holy Name to shame and therefore many great people prohibit writing out G-d’s name in full.’

“The Aruch HaShulchan (Choshen Mishpat 27:3) continues as follows: ‘Many great people have complained at the custom of writing letters and using the name of G-d, regardless of whether written in Hebrew or in a foreign language, because these letters are discarded and G-d’s name is put to shame, causing poverty to descend on the world due to the lack of respect for G-d.

“Our Sages once created a holiday when the Israelites stopped using G-d’s name in deeds and contracts, because when the loan was repaid then the contract was thrown into the rubbish (Rosh Hashana 18b).

“Therefore, we should all be very careful never to use the full name of G-d in letters and if it is written then the name of G-d should be cut out and hidden before you discard the letter (or the book).”

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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